01/27/2005 1:00AM

Talking horse has much to overcome


Eight years ago I watched a young colt go unbeaten in two starts at Fair Grounds, winning with such ease that I had no doubt he would become a star.

When his big day came, in the Grade 2 San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita, he finished seventh, beaten 10 lengths - providing a blow to my ego and wallet.

My ego recovered when the colt, Wild Rush, later became a dual Grade 1 winner. But it didn't change the fact that wagering on him in the San Rafael was a mistake.

The circumstances are similar in Saturday's Dash at Gulfstream Park. Entered is Lost in the Fog, who has won his two races with such aplomb that he has drawn comparisons to Smarty Jones and Da Hoss.

Beyer Speed Figures of 103 and 109 leap off his past performances. And following a track-record performance at Turf Paradise, in which he ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:13.55, he has grabbed more headlines than Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston.

Whatever his immense talent, it cannot match the hype. There will be little reward for wagering on him, aside from saying you bet on him if he eventually does become a star.

I would rather bet against him, believing the odds are in my favor. Putting aside what Lost in the Fog has done, consider what he is trying to do. Short on experience, with two starts, he is being shipped thousands of miles from his base at Golden Gate Fields in San Francisco to Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla. The climate is different, as is the surface and surroundings.

Never mind that this stakes race is the toughest test of his career, the cross-country ship could prove his undoing - just as it contributed to Wild Rush's loss in the San Rafael years ago.

This race is no gimme. Although the race lacks a graded winner, many of the competitors have speed and class. Their riders will likely ride aggressively, knowing they can ill afford to let the front-running Lost in the Fog get away.

Beyond that, Lost in the Fog is a bounce candidate. Even when a horse wins easily, as he did in scoring by nearly 15 lengths last out at Turf Paradise, running quickly can take a toll. Very few horses break track records and run triple-digit Beyers, time after time.

Out of curiosity I checked the Daily Racing Form database to see how horses fared after setting track records. I looked at three tracks currently running - Aqueduct, Fair Grounds, and Santa Anita - and followed the results of horses that set track records there at distances ranging from 4 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/8 miles, from 1990 to the present.

In this sample of 30 horses, 29 returned to race. Six won next time out, another seven were second, and six more were third. Racing over different tracks and distances, most regressed.

Of course, Lost in the Fog set his track mark as a 2-year-old, a highly unusual occurrence. He might regress and still win - his numbers are that freakishly fast - but there is no value in taking that stand.

I'll use three alternatives - B. B. Best, the entry of Seize the Day and Run Thruthe Sun, and Santana Strings - in the multiple-race gimmicks to try to land a price, and I'll take a shot with Santana Strings in the win pool.

Recently purchased and transferred to Steve Asmussen, Santana Strings has the most potential to improve. A sharp recent five-furlong work in 59.40 seconds suggests he is flourishing for his new trainer.

Santana Strings is also better than his past performances suggest. Racing in the Sugar Bowl at Fair Grounds on Dec. 24 following a layoff of 2 1/2 months, he overcame a tardy start and traffic problems to grab second behind eventual Lecomte winner Storm Surge. In losing that race by 2 1/4 lengths, he finished two lengths in front of the Asmussen-trained Razor, next-out winner of the Dixieland Stakes at Oaklawn.

Santana Strings's runner-up finish confirmed his ability to rate and finish, a key in a race in which many of his opponents figure to get discouraged or simply leg-weary from a demanding pace.

Whether he can leap forward and beat a horse with so much promise as Lost in the Fog remains to be seen, but at a potentially rewarding price, now is the time to take a shot.